The 13-year-old lion was not only a tourist favorite, but also, a research animal. The beloved lion was being studied by the Oxford University Conservation Unit.
Sunday at church, the service began with several worshipers of all ages gathered at the altar around 28 white candles. And several minutes of silence.
Well it was supposed to be silent.
We were late, as usual, so we stood in the back, where a couple dozen tiny congregants waited to make their grand entrance with bags of gifts that church members had brought to donate to the City Mission Society.
They were four, five or six years old, readying the bags that were bigger than they were and that crackled and snapped like paper bags will. Their wranglers shushed them, which only led to more bag rearranging. It was a cacophony of sound during what was supposed to be a silent remembrance. And it was beautiful.
The service began, the tots now making their way down the aisles behind the choir to the tune of Hymn 114, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” walking like drunken sailors, the way little kids do, especially when dragging oversized shopping bags dressed in what’s come to pass for Sunday best in our very casual church: party dresses maybe over pants and hair every which way. What was it the coroner said of the children of Sandy Hook? They wore “cute kids’ things?”
The peace greeting went from handshake to teary hugs.
Later, a very brave clergyman delivering the homily foolishly (he’d say later) thought he could make it through the line, “And a little child shall lead them.”
Next week, we’ll all meet again for the annual un-pageant!! On every seat in the pews, a crown, a piece of cloth for the shepherds, felt lambs ears for the sheep. Angels’ tinseled halos And when it comes to our part in the reading of the Christmas story, we will, sheep and shepherds and wisemen and angels, ascend to the altar to take our place in a wacky tableau until no one is left seated.
I don’t really feel like it this year, but will do it so those tiny tots in “cute kids’ clothes” know that we are there for them.
And because, after all, in their goofball way, they will lead us.